Plans for ‘New Utøya’ meet opposition

Bookmark and Share

The Labour Party’s youth organization AUF is running into strong opposition to its plans to redevelop the island where 69 persons were killed and scores of others wounded at last year’s AUF summer camp. Debate has also flared up again over AUF leader Eskil Pedersen’s decision to flee the island when the shooting began.

Redevelopment plans for AUF's island of Utøya are meeting strong opposition. PHOTO: AUF/MIR AS

Pedersen and AUF colleagues presented their plans to “take back” the island last week. They involve a major redevelopment project that includes a new conference center, new overnight accommodation, a new outdoor stage for concerts and speeches, and new athletic facilities. AUF leaders want to continue using the island as a meeting place for recreation and political debate.

Disagreement over the idea of redeveloping and continuing to use Utøya has been simmering, though, since last year’s massacre by a right-wing extremist who targeted AUF’s next generation of Labour politicians.  Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Friday that now the disagreement has boiled over, with survivors and victims’ families demanding a meeting with AUF leaders to air their opposition.

“The rebuilding of Utøya is a difficult issue,” Trond Henry Blattmann, leader of the national support group for the survivors and victims’ families, told Aftenposten. “Some want the island to be preserved as it is, others want to see activity there again, while others want something in between.” At the very least, he said, they all want to be heard.

Some survivors are so upset over plans to hold summer camps and activity on the island again that they claim it’s akin to “tramping on the graves” of those killed there last year. Others call the plans “naive” or “lacking respect.”

Blattmann said they’ve now secured a meeting between all the 17 county leaders of the national survivors’ group and Martin Henriksen, chairman of Utøya AS. “We’ll present and sum up our views, which will form our advice from the survivors,” he said. “Then AUF’s board will make a decision.” AUF owns the island and has ultimate control over its use.

Neither Henriksen nor Pedersen wanted to comment on the survivors’ reaction at this point. Pedersen, meanwhile, has become the target of more criticism from other suvivors over his decision to flee the island when convicted terrorist Anders Behring Breivik started shooting on July 22, 2011. That in turn has set off a major conflict between Labour Party secretary Raymond Johansen and Brynjar Meling, a high-profile attorney in Norway best known for defending Islamic cleric Mullah Krekar but who also is representing a group of Utøya survivors and victims’ families.

Johansen and Meling met for a heated exchange on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) earlier this week after Johansen wrote on Facebook that he was furious and nauseated by Meling’s statements in newspaper VG that it was legitimate for his clients to discuss Pedersen’s flight from Utøya along with seven others on the island’s only ferry. They question whether more lives could have been saved if the ferry could have been used to carry others away from the massacre as well. They also question Pedersen’s judgment and leadership potential, given his desire to have a political career within the Labour Party.

Johansen, Pedersen and many others in the Labour Party want to put an end to discussion over Pedersen’s actions under fire. While many in the media claim public debate over Pedersen’s decision has been suppressed because of the sensitive nature of the issue, Johansen contends there has been plenty of debate both in social and mainstream media. He claims Pedersen likely would have been those killed if he hadn’t escaped, since Breivik has claimed Pedersen was a main target.

Blattmann told Aftenposten that his group maintains that everyone on the island was a victim and that no one should feel guilty for decisions made during a life-threatening situation. “There is only one guilty party, and that’s the gunman,” said Blattmann, who like many others refrains from using Breivik’s name.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

Please support our news service. Readers in Norway can use our donor account. Our international readers can click on our “Donate” button: